It’s very tempting to start this album review with the words ‘Archie Roach, you are a legend’ because his latest offering is not only classic roach – it’s all that and more.
Into the Bloodstream is perhaps one of Archie’s most important albums to date because it chronicles the story of his deep pain on losing the love of his life, Ruby Hunter, in 2010, and his battle over two years with pain, grief and ill health. But there’s hope and joy there, too, and most of all the courage of a man to understand his journey, live with the pain and find his songline again.
Without doubt, Archie Roach is Australia’s most beloved, respected and admired Aboriginal singer/songwriter, but Into the Bloodstream is an album that almost didn’t happen.
Following Ruby’s unexpected death at their Killarney home in south-western Victoria, Archie suffered a stroke while he was holding music classes with children at remote Turkey Creek in the Kimberley. Lengthy rehabilitation followed and the stroke affected the right side of his body, including his guitar-strumming hand.
Then Archie began having trouble with his chest and doctors found he had the early stages of lung cancer. Archie then underwent surgery and had half a lung removed.
Album bio author Chris Johnston says of that time, “This chaos, pain and uncertainty has, through Archie’s rich and determined spirit, led to his most positive and celebratory suite of music yet: the joy and exuberance of much of Into the Bloodstream, his eighth studio album, is palpable,” Chris says.
“With the bad times subsiding, this new album is a joyous declaration of his new purpose and new resolve. This is uplifting music made against the odds.”
Archie affirms his intention was to lift himself and others up through song. That intention is the cornerstone of the album.
“Overcoming difficulties,” Archie says, “and singing more uplifting songs that are not so much about suffering and pain but rising above that. Going through what I have has made me realise that a big part of people getting sick has to do with holding onto pain and not letting it go. That was the inspiration behind it all. Letting go of the pain and the bad stuff and holding onto something good and strong.”
But in saying that, it is clear Archie does not seek to bury his pain nor lessen it in any way.
“While making this album
I’ve learned to look at Pain differently. I know that Pain can make you sick, very sick! My recent bouts of illness, I’m sure, are a result of the Pain of being removed from my family at a young age and, more recently, the loss of someone
I loved so dearly,” Archie says.
Each track on the album is a mix of expressing pain, and standing strong. The title track “Into the Bloodstream” is vintage Roach, about finding strength and expressing it. Songs like “Song to Sing”, “Heal the People” and “Little by Little”, are upbeat songs that draw on soul, gospel and country and western influences.
“Big Black Train” is a deep and powerful song with blues influences that has a distinct message: “This train is not bound for glory, this train, no this train’s not bound for glory, taking only the unholy.”
As always, Archie’s lyrics take us to where he wants us to go – to the voice of his people, the land and the spirit and the ever-present struggle of Indigenous people in this country.
“Mulyawongk”, “Old Mission Road” and “Hush Now Babies” are also in this vein. And “Heal the People” is soulful in its plea:
“… Heal the people,
Heal the land
Then we will understand
It goes hand in hand
Heal the people, heal the land.”
A major theme of the album is the support that Archie offers to anyone experiencing pain and loss. “I’m on Your Side” is a beautiful, heart-warming song of hope and standing shoulder to shoulder with anyone going through a tough time.
“Pain can also bring about change in one’s life for the better,” Archie says. We can choose to ignore the pain until it becomes unbearable or we can do something.
“I used to think that letting go of the pain was the only way to get better, but that may not be necessarily so. You see, some events in my life I will never truly get over, and the pain will always be there, but I can do something about it.
“I can write songs, songs about making it to the Top of the Hill no matter how far, songs about not being alone, songs about all of us having a song to sing, and songs we can dance to.”
“Even though we may be suffering with some chronic pain we can learn to live with and manage it with the right attitude to life and some good medicine.
“Doing this album has been good medicine for me!” Archie says. “I hope listening to it will be the same for you!”
The album release is supported by ‘Into the Bloodstream’ concerts in Melbourne, the Woodford Folk Festival, Qld, and
the Sydney and Adelaide Festivals. For details, head to
- or twitter.com/archieroach